The Golden State Warriors boosted their hopes of an automatic playoff berth with a crucial road victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday as Ja Morant made a smooth return from suspension for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Steph Curry finished with 20 points as the Warriors clinched only their ninth away win of the season to edge past the Mavericks 127-125 at Dallas’s American Airlines Center.
A back-and-forth battle saw the lead change hands 14 times, with Curry eventually giving Golden State a 125-122 lead with 8.5 seconds remaining from a superb layup.
Kevon Looney bagged a pair of free throws to make the game safe before Reggie Bullock’s three-pointer at the buzzer trimmed the deficit to two points.
But the main talking point was a bizarre moment in the third quarter, when Dallas came out onto the court following a timeout and set up on the wrong side of the court.
That left Golden State free to dunk unopposed into the Mavs basket for a gifted two points.
“It was great work the way we got organized and confused them,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr joked after the incident.
“When I saw them at the other end I had to stop and think ‘Wait, isn’t this our basket?’ I don’t know what happened. I guess they assumed it was their ball.”
Mavs owner Mark Cuban could be seen remonstrating with officials at the side of the court following the incident.
Cuban later took to Twitter saying officials had erred by wrongly giving the ball to the Warriors, claiming they initially signalled possession to Dallas.
“Worst officiating non call mistake possibly in the history of the NBA,” Cuban said.
Curry, who finished with 20 points, 13 assists and five rebounds, was one of six Warriors players to make double figures.
Luka Doncic led the scoring for Dallas with 30 points while rookie Jaden Hardy added 27, including six three-pointers.
The win saw Golden State improve to 38-36 for sixth place in the Western Conference and on course for an automatic ticket to the postseason.
But the defeat leaves the Mavs in ninth place and potentially at risk of missing the playoffs altogether with less than three weeks of the regular season remaining.
Morant back in groove
Elsewhere on Wednesday, Memphis claimed a 130-125 win over the Houston Rockets to remain in the second spot in the Western Conference.
Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins opted to use returning superstar Morant off the bench.
Morant had not played since he posted video of himself waving a handgun in a Colorado strip club on March 4.
He was subsequently given an eight-game suspension by the league for conduct detrimental to the NBA.
There was little sign of rustiness though in Morant’s 23-minute-and-47-second cameo on Wednesday, with the 23-year-old finishing with 17 points, four rebounds and five assists.
“Before the game I did some meditation, just to ease the nerves and emotions I was feeling,” Morant said.
“Once I got out there on the court, just seeing how the fans reacted to me being back, it meant a lot, made me feel good inside. I can’t put it in words.”
In Los Angeles, the Lakers boosted their playoff hopes with an impressive 122-111 defeat of the Phoenix Suns.
Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 27 points, while D’Angelo Russell (26) and Austin Reaves (25) combined for 51 points.
The win lifted the Lakers into 10th place in the Western Conference with nine regular season games remaining.
In Chicago meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers avenged Monday’s loss to the Bulls with an emphatic 116-91 win.
But the victory was tinged with concern for the Sixers, who saw Joel Embiid exit with a calf strain after the first half with Philadelphia leading 76-48.
The Sixers played down fears of a serious injury however and said Embiid is expected to play on Friday against Golden State.
“He’ll be ready for the next game,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said afterwards when asked about Embiid’s fitness.
“It was just precaution. We had a lead and felt like we could hold it. We’re about to go on a long trip, it just felt like the right thing to do.”
De’Anthony Melton led the scoring for the Sixers with 25 points while Tyrese Maxey added 21 and Tobias Harris 20.
In Miami, Jimmy Butler’s 35-point haul and 22 points from Tyler Herro helped the Heat dig out a 127-120 win over the New York Knicks.
R.J. Barrett led the Knicks scoring with 26 points.
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